Although I wrote on this topic in 2013 for (a now defunct) imagirl.ca, I think it’s body-positive message is just as important today. That’s why I am re-posting it here (with minor updates) for those of you who might be looking at your friends, hating yourself by comparison.
Imagine: You and your best girlfriend are sitting in the bathroom, painting your toenails. You don’t have any real issues with your feet, but your friend blurts out in the middle of a paint stroke, “Ew! My index toe is sooooo loooong. I hate it!”
Just like that, you’re looking at your own index toe. It is slightly longer than your big toe, but you weren’t aware that was even a problem. Suddenly, you’re conscious of something you were never conscious of before. Like Kady – who didn’t even know what nail beds were before the other Mean Girls mentioned them – you suddenly see yourself in a new (negative) light.
(Also, who the hell cares about TOES? They’re toes. They’re weird-looking by nature. Show me a picture of a ‘perfect’ set of toes. I dare you. What is a perfect set of toes, anyway? Who the heck decided that one? Actually, this tangent goes for any body part: Who has the last say in perfection?)
Take it a step further: You and your new friend are sitting at a table for lunch. She begins complaining about how fat she is – at 150 pounds.
I have two problems here: (1) your friend has just (unknowingly) dissed over a quarter of the female population, and (2) suddenly, even though you were perfectly happy with your weight a moment ago, you’re suddenly aware (even if your friend isn’t) that maybe you aren’t good enough – for her standard, or for anyone’s. Or perhaps you’ve always been told to put on weight, and now you feel that even more heavily.
Suddenly, you’ve been sucked into a bad-time spiral that can only go nowhere.
Been here before? Yeah. Like any of the beautiful, strong and passionate women reading this article, I’ve had my own fair share of spirals, usually after getting home from a really nice day out in the world. I’ll step past a mirror, look at my hair, calculate my weight, my height, my hands, my nose, my feet, my teeth . . . the list goes on. I would become consumed by it, the insecurities I could never escape or understand.
Why was I so consumed with my body? I ask myself, now so far away from all that. I remember thinking there was no way anyone could like me for me. That my body and my beauty was the only real thing I could offer anyone.
What’s worse? My insecurities were being reinforced on every side. Not just magazines, and television, and movies, and Instagram, no. By my friends. My family. The men and women in my life who hated on themselves, or others, without realizing the impact it was having on me, sitting right there in the room.
Thankfully, many of us are becoming keen on these dangers. There are a ton of channels that teach us how to re-assess our own opinions of beauty (like instagram vs. reality on Reddit), or the ways we view others; we catch the lies before they catch us.
Yay! That’s progress.
The Problem That Stays
Nevertheless, we still face a larger problem, one that many of us partake in unconsciously. Like I mentioned before: that scene in Mean Girls where three leading ladies stand in front of a mirror and pick themselves apart, noting their wide variety of ‘imperfections’. Why is it that Kady feels the need to jump in with her awful breath comment? Why does she feel pressured to partake in the routine self-deprecation that goes on behind locked bathroom doors–even when we’re alone?
Truth be told, I think we’re so used to hurting ourselves and each other that we don’t even see it anymore. We apply completely different standards for ourselves than anyone else, and it shows. We lob insults at ourselves, at others in jealousy or hatred at what they reflect in ourselves, hurting everyone in the process.
Looking back, I can really see that now: the ways my friends were hurt by my self-derision–the way I was hurt by theirs. Even now, if I call myself an ‘idiot’ or ‘dumb’ as a result of some small mistake, I can feel the echo of those voices below, waiting to grasp hold on those words and make me believe them.
Thankfully, my friends and I have had a lot of growing to do, and we’re all used to catching those words and countering them quickly now.
But how did we get here?
How can you join us?
Starting the Process of Self-Love
Everyone is different. Your process is going to look different. Mine started on a couch on a rainy day, when I’d finally had it with hating myself. I was going to be ME forever after all, there was no changing that. I looked up some self-love quotes, landed on this wild website, cried for two days, and then started to let myself believe, like the people I’d found online, and in life, that I was loveable. Worthwhile. That my body wasn’t the measure of any of that at ALL.
Still, all my loathing wasn’t going to go away overnight. And just “loving myself” wasn’t this Super Cure that had come along and changed my life in a blink. What did though, was a conscious choice:
I stopped looking at myself.
Instead (and also inspired by a friend who gives compliments SO easily), I began looking at others, and finding my favourite part about them. It was so much easier to look at someone else and call them beautiful. It started with their clothes, and then moved to their hair. Their eyes. Their smile. I began seeing things differently: chubby arms as totally cute, and thick thighs or no butt as unique and different and human. Dimples and armpits and knuckles and knees. Wrinkles and waddles and tummies and toes. All the things that make up the bodies that hold onto our minds for life.
I’m getting away from myself:
The trick is, when you start to think this way, of everyone else as being beautiful, your logic is going to kick in just like mine did. It’s going to say: well, if everyone else’s differences and bodies are different and cool and cute and beautiful, why can’t mine be, too?
Soon, the things that I had learned were bad or ugly or that ‘should be hidden’ became like flipping the pages of a very fun book as I watched others make them beautiful. Easily, looking at others as beautiful became a habit. I began complimenting strangers on the street for practice. And then, because it had become so habitual, I began looking at myself in the mirror through the eyes of someone who loved bodies, and faces, and wrinkles, and acne, and saw only goodness. I started to understand that my socialized thinking–which resulted in my seeing my reflection as somehow wrong–was actually the mistake I was making.
This is Me, I would say. This body’s cool because it’s MINE.
Sending Yourself some Body Love
Still, there are those who aren’t ready to see it in themselves, and it can be difficult to navigate this presence in ourselves and our loved ones. I mean, how many of us have gone our entire lives without leaving our body-cares behind, without letting ourselves live free of that weight? Can we really reverse the negative others-affected hatred of ten, twenty, or fifty years? Can we allow this renewed self-discovery the room it needs to blossom?
I think YES.
It takes a lot of work. It pushed me to tears to realize that maybe, just maybe, I was beautiful, too. Inside, and out. I read self-help books, and searched for positivity in every corner of my life. I learned to love myself in my very own way. And you know what? I am feeling the love now, and in the years beyond, continually grateful that I can hear the self-loathing of others and be free of it–even counter it own and show others the way OUT.
And you know what else? There’s enough of that love for all of us. Even if you don’t see it now. Guess what, too? I’m gonna counter your next three bad thoughts about yourself. No! I’ll say. You’re enough. More than enough. Better than enough! And the world is ready to see you for who you really are. I’ll counter the fourth too, oh! And the fifth. Just hand them over–they’re not for you.
Now, get! Take another step forward on your self-love journey! I’ve given you some tools, and I’ll be right there behind you.